Growing up, mental health challenges and addiction diseases are things that I witnessed frequently in my community and with some family members. I saw so many people suffering and not enough people were available to help. I had a lot of questions.
As I grew older, several people would come to me for encouragement; I think studying counselling psychology and specializing in addiction and mental health disorders just came naturally to me.
The vision for Sumaya started to develop a while back in 2011. I participated in a training conducted by UNODC in Nairobi; after the training, we were tasked to go back to our countries and address mental health and addiction disorders among adolescent girls and young women. Not only that, we were to help families and communities identify the issues above, and seek early interventions. As a trained national trainer of trainers, I was excited to pursue this goal.
Soon after I had returned home to Uganda, I started identifying women with substance, and mental health disorders; I would give them free therapeutic services, and buy them a few essentials whenever I could. As I went on about my work at the national referral mental health hospital (Butabika), I became more and more aware of the plight of women.
My awareness was amplified by the construction and operation of the female ward at the alcohol and drugs unit. I came across several women who had been discriminated against, dumped, and rejected by their families. Some who were mothers were denied access to children, and rights to their properties were taken away. It was challenging.
For a long time, I thought about creating something that would help these women; I talked about my dream with several people, however, it wasn’t until I started talks with my old friend Sammy (Creator & director of the Sumaya film) in 2020, that Sumaya was thereafter birthed in 2021. I don’t earn much, but I have managed to facilitate the project from inception to date.
Sumaya at the moment is a film project that is geared towards awareness and education of the masses on mental health and addiction disorders. As a country, there are still very many things we need to learn and understand about mental health and addiction. At least two of my family members have gotten into a mental health crisis due to a breakup in a romantic relationship; to date, the family still believes that their conditions are a result of witchcraft. I managed to get them medical help, but the people’s beliefs remain the same.
My family’s beliefs are no different from what the majority of the country believes. I hope that the film project will help us mobilise financial support that will be used to help women who have fallen on tough times due to their mental health challenges, and addiction disorders. The help, which includes economic empowerment, would be given to enable these women to stand on their own after rehabilitation.
In the past 14 years, I have walked the journey of recovery with so many women. It is not an easy one. I feel guilty when I see a client of mine calling and I ignore the call because my intuition tells me that they are going to ask for transport money to come for review and medication.
For whatever reason, their family has refused to give them the money, but even though I know the dangers of a relapse, I am dodging the call. I later pick up the call with so many questions in my head. I wonder if I will be able to sustain helping them; sometimes the problems they have are just too big and I am unable to help.
Quite often the additional help I render to my clients takes a toll on me; I fight for these women, and it is like I am fighting alone against a whole community of people. It is hard to support women while they are at a rehabilitation centre, and then let them loose to a community that fights them on every side and makes staying in recovery nearly impossible.
Sometimes I can follow up with a few of the ladies, but more often than not, I don’t have enough money to do so. When I don’t get a positive outcome, I sometimes question myself. I question if I used all the knowledge and skills I learnt adequately. Sometimes I get stressed and burnout but I keep going because all that withstanding, nothing beats the joy of seeing someone you helped finally standing on their feet. It gives me great joy.
When a woman suffers from poor mental health or addiction, it impedes her ability to nurture and care for her children. The result will be that not only her family suffers, but the whole country too. Now the question to you and me is, what type of society are we preparing for the generations ahead?
I know somewhere out there, some people are like me; people who would also like to support such a cause. There is only so much I can do on my own. I hope that a few more people can join me on this journey as well.
An earlier version of this article was published on Sumaya.
Jane Mapenzi is the founder of Sumaya.